Music Reviews

Ultraphallus: The Art of Spectres

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Industrial Music / Industrial Metal / Aggro Industrial / Electro Metal
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jul 15 2016
Artist: Ultraphallus
Title: The Art of Spectres
Format: CD
Label: Sub Rosa (@)
Rated: *****
After a couple of self-produced albums - "Lungville" (2005) and "The Clever" (2008), being the latter the one which included most interesting ideas, even if partially listened in the 90ies in the stuff of bands like Starfish Enterprises - and an album - "Sowberry Hagan" (2010) - on the English label Riot Season, the Liege-based Belgian band Ultraphallus -made up of Phil Maggi (vocals, samples, electronics, trumpet, percussion...maybe some Chain DLK readers met his name as he signed some outputs on Idiosyncratic, a label I keep on following, wisely managed by Phil himself), Julien Bockiau (bass, drums), Xavier Dubois (guitar, bass), Ivan Del Castillo (bass) - moves towards intriguing and definitively more experimental stylistic rough terrains. Even if there are many common factors with so-called sludge metal bands (mainly some political and sociological issues, developed as if they got filtered through a cynical lens and a visionary distorting one, abrasive guitars close to stone rock and shouts that featured former outputs of the band), I won't label - thank goodness! I would have already skipped all tracks... - them as a proper sludge band. On this album, whose output was initially announced for the beginning of 2015, they wisely melt death core, doom metal, noise, art-rock, dark ritual ambient, music of western movies, deviant declensions of blues (check the second part of "Let Him Be Alistair") and electronic movie music and replaced avalanches of riffs that featured some of their previous outputs by pernickety jobs on guitar-driven spindles. I could vaguely describe them as a strange hybrid between an abstract interpretation of Ramesses' music and some stuff coming from Gent-based label Delboy (Blutch, Black Cobra and so on). The hyper-amplified convulsive guitar-driven opening "The Blood Sequence", where the really spectral voice by Phil Maggi seems to give voice to a personal manifesto, sounds like the appetizer of the piercing sound by which they drill the almost tribal mantra of "Madrigal Lane", the hyper-cynical debunking hymn of the above-mentioned "Let Him Be Alistair". The track in the middle of the album, "The Death of Mark Frechette", evokes some stuff by The Residents, but the choice of the reference - Mark Frechette was the American actor that became notorious after interpreting the leading role in Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point", who died in prison after having been suffocated by a barber that fell on his neck... - sounds like a merciless grin on the jokes of fate. The spleen of "Whitewasher" precede the likewise cynical sad portray on "Eva Ionesco" (the well-known baby model), and the ghostly feast of the final "Sinister Exaggerator" are some of the highlights of an assay of spectral art.

Akathartos: First Nightmare

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jul 03 2016
Artist: Akathartos (@)
Title: First Nightmare
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Well, okay, sometimes things just slip through the cracks here at Chain D.L.K. as this was released just nearly a year ago, althjough I personally haven't had it that long, and when I get a pile of stuff to review, I review 'em when I can. Anyway, Akathartos is the project of Samuli Reivila, from Tuusala, Finland and 'First Nightmare' is Akathartos' debut release, a mini-album of six tracks, a little over 32 minutes. He describes it as Orchestral Electro-Industrial, and that's just about right, but I might modify it to Gothic Orchestral Electro-Industrial because it does have a very gothic tone to it. On this recording Reivila does it all, except for the female vocals provided by Satu Vaisanen, which are a nice touch. Akathartos cites its influences as Hans Zimmer, Suicide Commando, Wumpscut, Hocico (among others) and it shows in some ways. One of the most obvious is the processed, harsh distoro-vocals used by the latter three mentioned. I'm not really a big fan of that particular vocal style. In my opinion it works okay for EBM and some electro-industrial, but I think there's been a move away from that lately because it's been just so overdone. Fortunately that isn't the only type of vocals you'll hear on 'First Nightmare,' but still it plays a major part. Choral vocals play a big part in this work too, and in fact, that's the first thing you will hear. This helps to give Akathartos a huge sound, something much larger than you'd expect from a single person. The orchestral arrangements are heavy and gothic, nearly Wagnerian, or akin to some of the more morose Russian composers. Lots of drama and pathos in a neoclassical setting with an electro-industrial edge.

If you're familiar with Swedish neoclassical band Arcana, imagine them fused with say, Wumpscut, Hocico or Front Line Assembly, and you'll get an idea of the overall sound of this project. There are some places on 'First Nightmare' where this combo works really well together, and others where it sounds like two distinctly different entities. Satu's vocals add a beautiful dimension to the music, and although I wouldn't say she has a stong voice, she does have a pretty one. As for Samuli's voice, during the more neoclassical passages, he employs a less harsh type of vocal processing, and when the beat becomes more electro-industrial, the vocals get harsher. One problem though is the production, and maybe even the mastering. There is a lack of clarity and sharpness that is a hallmark of home production. Limited budgets and limited studio experience tend to give these kind of results. Here I wouldn't necessarily categorize it as bad, but with great studio and mastering skill, it could have been so much more. It sort of comes across as a live recording, and if this is actually what the project sounded like live, Akathartos would have no trouble selling out shows.

For a first outing, 'First Nightmare' shows just what this talented Finnish composer is capable of, and that's something that a few more-seasoned artists working in Neoclassical Darkwave or Electro-Industrial genres that I've reviewed here have yet been able to prove- something engaging and compelling that doesn't just sound like everybody else working in the same field. Akathartos is defintely one to watch for in the future, and enjoy in the now.

Plaster: Mainframe

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jun 19 2016
Artist: Plaster (@)
Title: Mainframe
Format: CD
Label: Kvitnu (@)
Rated: *****
It's quite strange that this astonishing release by Plaster (dating back last November, but release dates sometimes don't really matter), the Rome-based project by Gianclaudio Hashem Moniri, has not received many feedbacks on well-known zines, even if I think it's one of the best acts from the liminal stylistic territory between power electronics, dark-ambient and IDM. The masterfully forged sounds and the grand strategies by which Plaster intersects superbly shaped noises, rhythmical engines, and abstract minimal flow place this output (the third album signed by Plaster) at the highest levels of electronic compositions reached by better-known names like Mika Vainio or Senking. The evocative banshee-like murmuring/moaning vocals by Valeria Svizzeri, the dark synth-driven flints and the rising harsh sonic talons by which Plaster grabs the attention of listener on the opening melted two parts of "Unicore" perfectly sets the mood for the listening of the whole album. I prefer tracks where this way of organizing sounds that subtly move towards overwhelming tidal of sound, such as "Blade", "Terminal" or the hyper-fragmented codified precipitation tests of "Cluster System" by far, but other configurations are likewise entrancing: the sinister crossbreed of suffocating tribal-industrial and technoid cog wheels of "Lucubra" and "Primal" or the unusual concatenation between "Redshift" and the third part of "Unicore" - a duet which could sound like an abrasive declension of dystopian cyber-industrial stuff, Bladerunner OST and psychotropic stuff by Ron Rothfield's The Infinity Project, Juno Reactor and even Banco De Gaia (the opening sequence of "Red Shift" reminded some things - I don't exactly remember which track - I heard in Toby Marks' masterpiece "Maya") and the unpredictable dark-enlighted sublime epic final "Coiled Heart" are other highlights of this excellent release., whose artwork (cut cardboard sleeve printed with pure silver paint and black abrasive inner insert) says something of the features of its sound!

Born For Bliss: Falling Back to Never

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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May 31 2016
Artist: Born For Bliss (@)
Title: Falling Back to Never
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
'Falling Back to Never' is Dutch band Born For Bliss's third full album coming after the 'Innocent' EP (2013) of which three of that track on that are on this album. If there is a similarity in some respect to Clan of Xymox, it's no coincidence of location; Frank Weyzig (vocals, guitars, keys, bass) was a member of Xymox from the beginning until 1994. Willem van Antwerpen (drums, percussion) was also a member of Xymox for a spell. Remco Helbers (bass, guitars, keys) came from The Dreamside. Yet Xymox 2 'Born For Bliss' certainly is not. B4B was formed in 1995 and although their ouput is not prolific, what they carefully craft in their music takes time and a lot of thought to develop. After hearing their previous releases, I can't say definitvely that 'Falling Back to Never' is necessarily better, but the band has certainly evolved, stretched out and matured. The sound of the band is still similar - lush, thick, often soaring and somewhat epic. A bit of Wezig's fire has simmered, but it's still cooking. I have to say here that I completed the review a while ago, wasn't happy with it and shelved it for later. Revisiting 'Falling Back to Never I gained some perspective and feel I can do the album some justice now. Opening strong with the exotic "Innocent," and it's looped female voice in a strange language, it's a powerful psychedelic feast with a strong chorus ("Tell me your story. Tell me you're innocent.") and backing vocals courtesy of Lori Sloan. Great stuff! That's followed with "The Narrow Place," a superb downtempo emotive power ballad, wallowing in regret of lost love. Once again Lori provides vocal support. "Underground" starts out very much an electric rocker with a truly great hook, then in the middle it slows down with verse backed by acoustic guitar, which may seem to sabotage the momentum, but is actually a stroke of genius. "Greed" is loaded with melancholy atmosphere which continues on into "Falling Back." There's a kind of Pink Flyodian vibe here, parially in the pacing, parially in the phrasing. "Hours" begins as an intimate soul-baring ballad with a evocative string arrangement until it explodes into the big huge. "Better Than Me" has a lot of Floydian characteristics (absent the bluesy elements), but it's still better than PF in their waning years. "Wrong" is reminiscent of Trent Reznor at his most introspective, circa 'The Fragile'. It's deep, sad, and you won't easily forget it. "walk on By" is a beautiful song where everything works perfectly; it's a ballad that moves from just voice and acoustic guitar to full band gradually, and the lyrics are elegant and sublime. The band charges back into the fray with "Four Horsemen," an obligatory goth-rocker but welcome nevertheless. It's like Peter Murphy standing in the Fields of the Nephilim. Great stuff! "Thorns" is almost more atmosphere than song, but still a song it is with wonderful words and melody. I think B4B should have ended the album right here...keep 'em wanting more. And that's the one problem with the album, in my opinion. The last track, "Anxiety" is just way too long at over 9 minutes. The song drags, and the lyrics don't help; rhyming words with "anxiety" ("sobriety", "inside of me", "society") gives only limited options, and not much "variety," ironically a word not used in the song. Lots of melancholia, but not much point. A shame really, when everything else was so great. Nine minutes of tedium is hard to overlook though. I wouldn't let it put you off getting the album; it's only one track out of twelve, and there aren't a lot of bands with that kind of batting average these days.

Moving Units: Damage With Care

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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May 22 2016
Artist: Moving Units (@)
Title: Damage With Care
Format: CD
Label: Metropolis Records (@)
Rated: *****
One of the funniest item coming out from the recent baking in the oven of Metropolis Records is the new album by Los Angeles-based former trio Moving Units, which seems to have come through the dispute occurred in late 2012 related to the fact that their singer and guitarist Blake Miller performed some solo shows by using the name of the band without the approval of other members by the simplest way possible: he left the band, but this output seems to be coming from a sort of temporary armistice! Licensed by Mark Blumenthal's label Kitty Play, "Damage With Care" is nothing revolutionary from the stylistic viewpoint, but it's nice the way he overlaps and interlaces funky-disco rhythmical patterns, guitar riffs and that "glamouresque" lewdness evoked by slapped bass together with a nonchalant attitude. I wouldn't label disco-punk, as lyrics don't really sound belonging to a rebel yell, as the way by which Blake inject a certain irreverence looks like pink spots on a leopard-skin upholstery than a spit on a radiant marble floor of a luxury hotel, so that I would rather say it's close to a rejuvenating declension of electronic rock, but it doesn't mean it's so close to banality. The best moments are maybe the ones when the band coast along some surf sonorities such as it happens on "Teacher " or "Wishful Thinking" (really cheeky and somehow baffling the repetition of "I wanna be alone inside" in a disco-tinged song as well as the strange mutation of Miller's voice, which sounds like Miki Berenyi of Lovelife-era Lush) and the ones where frenzy guitar riffs seem to reprise the brightest moments of dark and synth-pop ("American Infantile" - including a sample of Duran Duran's "Girls on Film"? -, "I Don't Mind", "Fragile Magic"). I would introduce this record as a possible musical translation of the chemical process to turn excess fat and cellulite into soap.

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